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Kyle Schmidt, Georganne Schmidt-Hetrick, Sandy Schmidt-Karram, Drew Karram and Matt Schmidt pose for a photo at Schmidt’s Sausage Haus in German Village.

A Family Affair

Members of Schmidt's Sausage Haus take pride in being Ohio State Fair's longest-running vendor.

Schmidt family pose for a photo at Schmidt's Sausage Haus in Columbus' German Village

A Family Affair

By Wendy and Mike Pramik

Posted On: Jul 25, 2022

Even with a century of tradition behind their backs, members of Columbus' Schmidt's Sausage Haus family admit to feeling a bit anxious about working this year's Ohio State Fair, which opens July 27.

After all, the public has been unable to attend the annual tradition since 2019 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"It almost feels like it's all new," says Sandy Schmidt-Karram, part of the fourth generation of Schmidts to run the family business. "It's amazing how many things you forget even after doing it for more than 100 years straight."

black and white photograph of people and vendor works for Schmidt Sausage Haus at the Ohio State Fair in Columbus
Photo courtesy of Schmidt's Sausage Haus

They'll likely adapt in no time. As the fair's longest-running vendor, there has been a Schmidt selling food at the fair since 1914. That’s when George L. Schmidt began hawking hot dogs and sandwiches at the event. Schmidt was the son of company founder J. Fred Schmidt, a German immigrant who opened a meat packing business in south Columbus in 1886.

The company says it's the oldest family-owned and operated food vendor at any state fair in the United States.

"It's definitely an honor," Sandy says. "It's a true family affair."

Schmidt's has two locations at the Ohio State Fairgrounds in Columbus – near the 11th Avenue entrance, and at the northeast corner of Bricker Marketplace, along the WNCI Food Highway.

Kyle Schmidt, Georganne Schmidt-Hetrick, Sandy Schmidt-Karram, Drew Karram and Matt Schmidt pose for a photo at Schmidt’s Sausage Haus in German Village.
Kyle Schmidt, Georganne Schmidt-Hetrick, Sandy Schmidt-Karram, Drew Karram and Matt Schmidt

They're extensions of Schmidt's Sausage Haus, the landmark German Village restaurant established in 1967 by George F. Schmidt, the founder's grandson. Much of the work at the fair over the past few decades has been carried on by George F.'s six children: Susie, Geoff, John, Andrew, Georganne and Sandy, who at 58 is the youngest. Sandy and John, and several members of the next generations, still work at the fair. Additional employees and volunteers are affectionately known as "Schmidtheads."

Bahama Mama and Cream Puff from Schmidt's Sausage Haus in Columbus Ohio

The family works about 50 fairs and festivals a year around Ohio, with the state fair being their biggest event. Fairgoers seek out Schmidt's signature Bahama Mama spicy sausages and oversized cream puffs. The stands also offer hot dogs, beer, pretzels, schnitzel, sauerkraut balls, and other goodies.

New this year will be breakfast platters available until 10:30AM, consisting of scrambled eggs and sausage patties, biscuits and gravy.

"We're excited," says Matt Schmidt, part of the family's fifth generation. "The fair was childhood summer for me."

Younger Schmidts often started out filling ice bins and bussing tables at the fair – there are dozens of seats at each location. They could move up to working the counter, or when they really got good, working the grill or making cream puffs. The family says it sells about 7,000 cream puffs during the fair.

Matt would often save his earnings to buy something special, such as a bicycle one year. He said he's saving money this year, too.

"For my children's education – all three of them."

Matt is joined by cousins Kyle Schmidt and Drew Keller in helping to operate the fair booths.

"How far we've come," says Sandy, reminiscing.

"Isn't that the truth," Georganne concurs.

Sandy recalls "just growing up at the fair and having teenage crushes on the Coca-Cola and Pepsi men. If you weren't working, my grandfather, George L., wouldn't let you behind the counter. If he caught you, he'd crack your leg with his cane."

Black and white photograph of people working in uniform for Schmidt Sausage Haus in Columbus Ohio
Photo courtesy of Schmidt's Sausage Haus

Georganne remembers wearing the required white, starched uniforms. "These dresses would go down to our ankles. At night we'd tape them up with masking tape, so they'd be a good length."

The sisters always strive to handle big crowds with grace. "You make eye contact with one person at a time, and you don't look at how long the line is," Sandy says.

"It's controlled chaos," says Matt, laughing.

This year, instead of cash registers, the family will use the Clover point-of-sale system for purchases, tracking and reporting.

One tradition that will remain unchanged is a special serenade at the 11th Avenue location by the All-Ohio State Fair Band.

Black and white photograph of the All Ohio State Fair Band at the Schmidt Sausage Haus vendor booth at the Ohio State Fair in Columbus
Photo courtesy of Schmidt's Sausage Haus

It began as a birthday celebration when George Schmidt was young. Each year, on the first Monday of the fair, the band marches across the fairgrounds to sing "Happy Birthday." Fair visitors can hear the 200 or so band members playing as they march down the midway.

"That's when the goosebumps start," Sandy says.

After George Schmidt passed away in 2013, the band began playing for John Schmidt, as his birthday also is in August.

"We cry because mom always cried, so we cry," Georganne says. "It's emotional."

The band then gets in line after playing, for complimentary hot dogs, chips and Pepsi. It's a friendly gesture by the family that's been a part of the fair for more than a century.

"We've missed it greatly these past two year," Sandy says.

For more notable Ohioans and ways to celebrate the Ohio State Fair, check out #OhioFindItHere at Ohio.org

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